No judge-made bans on BNP
Moves to restrict the right to politically organise could easily be used against the left, argues Eddie Ford
Another week, another attack on democratic rights - even if it is dressed up in liberal, anti-racist clothing. So last week a representative of the judges - those well known friends of the working class - decreed that the British National Party had to suspend recruitment to its ranks on the grounds that its constitution discriminates, albeit “indirectly”, against non-whites. Therefore, the organisation was acting unlawfully under the 1976 Race Relations Act. Naturally, the BNP is appealing against the decision.
Of course, the courts had already warned the BNP - which most of the left idiotically insists is a “Nazi” party - about the dubious legal status of its membership criteria, if not the organisation itself. To this effect, last October the Equalities and Human Rights Commission attempted to seek a court injunction against the BNP for its rule that only so-called “indigenous Caucasian” people are allowed to join. That is, almost comically, those adjudicated by the organisation to be part of the “Anglo-Saxon folk community”, the “Celtic Scottish folk community”, the “Scots-Northern Irish folk community”, the “Anglo-Saxon-Norse folk community”, and so on.
Fearing bankruptcy or worse, Nick Griffin - the BNP’s distinctly second-rate and unimpressive “Führer” - felt he had no choice but to retreat under the EHRC’s righteous fire and promised to use “all reasonable endeavours” to convince the BNP membership that it would be extremely advisable to reword its constitution in order to meet the requirements of anti-racist legislation. Accordingly, at an extraordinary general meeting held last month, the BNP voted to scrap its existing membership criteria - thus proving that they are not total bovine cretins - and theoretically allow ‘non-whites’ or ‘non-indigenous’ persons entrance to the party.
However, and fairly predictably, the BNP still had not jumped through enough legal hoops. Just as last year’s now legendary Question time programme became ‘Let’s do Griffin time’, so the courts similarly have decided to stick the knife into the BNP. Thus we had the shocking discovery that a racist organisation is ... er, well, racist and wants to promote its racist message.
Yes, OK, judge Paul Collins told the BNP, you may have voted to admit non-whites - but any black or Asian eager to join your party still has to sign up to your principles, which are discriminatory. No doubt ‘unfair’. Hence any prospective member has a duty to oppose the promotion of any form of integration or assimilation that impacted on the “indigenous British”, and also a requirement to support the “maintenance and existence” of the “unity and integrity of the indigenous British” - not to mention, of course, “stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration”. As far as judge Collins was concerned, such principles “could be interpreted” to mean opposition to mixed marriages, for example, or forcing people to deny their own cultural identity and background.
Consequently, the BNP is still prohibited from recruiting new members until it truly satisfies the courts that it has reformed itself to the extent that it can be duly certified as a legally respectable, fully kosher organisation. At the very least, the BNP has to ditch or drastically amend articles 11 and 12 of its constitution. To further rub salt into the wound - the law was always a rich man’s game - the BNP was ordered to pay legal costs estimated to be in the region of £60,000-£100,000.
Quite clearly, or at least for anyone whose mind is not befuddled by BNP-phobic irrationality, this court judgement sets a dangerous precedent. A danger pointed to, though inadvertently, by the EHRC in its welcoming of the ruling. Explaining the decision, the EHRC stated that, while judge Collins had ruled that it is not unlawful as such to hold “discriminatory views”, it is unlawful for such opinions or principles to be used as the basis for “controlled entry” to a political party. Or, as the head of the EHRC’s legal enforcement unit, Susie Uppal, put it, “Political parties, like any organisation, are obliged to respect the law and not discriminate against people who wish to become members.”
In his condemnation of the “blatant political persecution” of the BNP by judge Collins, and the EHRC’s delighted spin on the matter, Nick Griffin went on to argue that if the BNP eventually loses the case - and thus has to fully accede to the strictures and interventions of the courts - a party that supported abortion on demand could be accused of “discriminating” against Catholics, or vegetarian organisations could be found guilty of “discriminating” against meat-eaters.
Frankly, there is more than a kernel of truth to what the odious Nick Griffin says here - and we in the CPGB are not afraid to say it. Thanks to last week’s ruling, the courts can now turn round to any political organisation or party and declare it to be operating a system of “controlled entry”. After all, can just anyone join the Socialist Workers Party or Socialist Party in England and Wales? What if SPEW denied membership to a fundamentalist Christian or reactionary millionaire? The courts might well decide, it could be argued, that SPEW was acting in a “discriminatory” and thus “unlawful” manner - and hence ordain that it “suspend” recruitment until it alters the membership requirements, or constitution - maybe even its programme - in such a way that pleases the bewigged dignitaries on the bench.
But the matter does not end there. A wily, on-his-game lawyer who has done the necessary research - like any good lawyer should - could persuade a judge that SPEW’s commitment to the ‘rule of the working class’ is just another term for the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, which indeed is quite true. That being the case, then surely SPEW’s - or the CPGB’s - entire programmatic outlook is “discriminatory”, possibly “unlawful”, as it seeks to sweep away the monarchy, House of Lords, the standing army, etc - and where would that leave aristocrats and army generals, not to mention capitalists? That would give the ‘impartial’ courts no choice but to order the suspension of recruitment to leftwing organisations until all our literature has been appropriately rewritten and rephrased. For example, the Weekly Worker will have to remove its ‘Become a Communist Party associate member’ form from the bottom of page 11 until we buckle under and junk our ‘What we fight for’ column: replacing it with meaningless guff about striving for ‘social justice’, ‘human advancement’, ‘shared common values’, ‘progressive goals’, ‘fairness for all’, ‘protecting the planet’, and nauseating crap like that.
Only the naive or terminally innocent could believe that such an eventuality is fanciful speculation. It is Marxists and communists who pose a real threat to the capitalist system, not the boneheaded and insubstantial BNP - least of all the pathetic, pissed-up, happy-hour pinheads in outfits like the English Defence League. When it comes to the crunch - that is, a revolutionary situation - it will be the far left that the bourgeoisie will target, legally or otherwise. Indeed, under certain circumstances, the establishment as a whole could turn in its desperation to a revitalised and politically reconstituted far right - ie, almost certainly not Griffin’s BNP - as potential saviours of the capitalist system, willing to do the dirty work and ruthlessly crush the working class movement, specifically the organised left.
Therefore, as a general principle, communists argue that political organisations and parties - as voluntary associations of broadly like-minded people - should and must have the right to organise themselves how they wish, which logically means the freedom to decide who can and cannot become a member. Communists, as consistent democrats, do not apply this principle only to overtly political groups. Similarly, we think the Catholic church - morally repugnant as it is in many ways - should have the right to organise its own internal ecclesiastical bodies and institutions as it sees fit, to recruit whoever it wants to the priesthood, free from external state intervention or ‘anti-discriminatory’ legislation of the kind seemingly promulgated by judge Collins or the EHRC. Needless to say, this in no way implies that communists therefore think that the Catholic church should have carte blanche to criminally abuse its laity or the right to discriminate against those it employs, for instance, in a non-ecclesiastical capacity (electricians, builders, plumbers, etc). Quite the opposite.
The CPGB, strangely enough, also believes that gladly handing over weapons to the bourgeoisie, which they can then freely use against us, is not a good idea - to put it mildly. Yet there are many on the left who do not seem to share our view. Which brings us the excitement generated over the Maurice Smith review, an independent inquiry commissioned by the government into whether BNP members should be banned or not from becoming teachers.
To much gnashing of liberalistic, anti-racist teeth, the review’s author concluded that a ban on BNP members in schools would be akin to “taking a very large sledgehammer to crack a minuscule nut” - seeing that over the last seven years only four members of the teaching profession and two governors had been publicly identified as being members of racist organisations, and only nine incidents of teachers making racist remarks or holding racist materials had been subject to disciplinary sanction by the General Teaching Council.
Additionally, Smith observed, although police and prison officers are currently banned from taking BNP membership, barring more than half a million teachers - or six million public sector workers, for that matter - would be a “profound political act” of a great order of “magnitude”. Rather, he stated, the existing measures to protect children and young people from discrimination or “political indoctrination” were “comprehensive enough” to mitigate the risk - although, as always, some areas could be “improved upon”.
In response, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers general secretary, Chris Keates, slammed the Smith inquiry as a “golden opportunity squandered”. She also commented that the idea that a BNP member can “simply leave” his or her beliefs at the school gate and then behave like a teaching professional inside was “risible”. The Tories, of course, were keen to get in on the act and boost their anti-racist credentials, especially with a general election coming up. So Conservative education spokesman Michael Gove pontificated about how the Smith inquiry failed to get to “grips with the problem extremism poses to our children” and urged that head teachers and governors be given the powers to “dismiss extremists in the classroom without having to wade through bureaucracy”.
As alluded to by Maurice Smith, BNP teachers are not exactly numerous. But the number of Socialist Worker-reading teachers, for example, is by contrast relatively large. Of course, in reality, the “extremists” Gove really has in mind are more likely to be either Islamists or partisans of the revolutionary left - that is, those who are members or supporters of the SWP, SPEW, CPGB, etc. Indeed, anyone of a generally progressive disposition who is attracted to the emancipatory ideas - and intellectual tools - of Marxism in the broadest sense of the term and hence in some shape or form wants to communicate this excitement as a part of the education process.
But naturally, for philistine reactionaries and bores like Michael Gove, such honest pedagogical enthusiasm is a disturbing manifestation of “extremism” - the ‘loony left’ teachers of tabloid imagination taking over the classroom and brainwashing the poor, innocent kids with their outlandish and quixotic ideas. Instead of such mad Marxist nonsense, we are to presume, rote-learning, the infliction of the grindingly dull national curriculum and - most importantly of all - turning the kids into nothing much more than exam-passing automatons is the real business and purpose of school, and top-down ‘education’ in general. Most definitely not as a project that seeks to empower students by providing them with the relevant and necessary knowledge and intellectual skill-sets to develop their own ideas and individual self-confidence - a part of which naturally involves having no inhibitions or worries about openly challenging in the classroom, if required, the viewpoints being expressed by the teacher - and, of course, vice versa. Democratic reciprocity.
A far cry indeed from the patronising and condescending attitude towards youth expressed by the Morning Star, perfectly summed up in the headline, “Shield young from racists”. No, comrades, give youth the space and education to take on and confront racist and reactionary garbage of all hues - not let teacher do it for them because teacher knows best. But for ‘official communist’ crusties like the Communist Party of Britain, the Maurice Smith review recommendations are a grave “dereliction of duty”. In fact, we read, it “beggars belief” that the authors of this report came to this conclusion - given that teachers are in a “special position of authority” and any “devaluation” by them of “any particular section of society”, like black or Asian pupils, will have a “disastrous effect on students”. The only solution, the article stridently affirms, is to impose a “blanket ban” on BNP members working in “any capacity” in “our” schools (March 12).
Unfortunately, such instinctively authoritarian attitudes are not confined to ‘official communism’. Though this week’s Socialist Worker elects to keep curiously mum on the issue, we can read similar sentiments on the Counterfire website - the rather unexciting blog set up by the Left Platform comrades grouped around John Rees and Lindsey German, recently expunged from the SWP host organism. Like the Morning Star, our now media-orientated comrades are suitably outraged by the Smith review. Thus in an article penned by Alex Snowdon - an expelled SWPer who sits on the Counterfire editorial board and runs the Luna17 blog - we find out that “furious unions” have condemned the government’s decision to “continue permitting members of the far-right BNP to become schoolteachers”. In typical SWP-style - old habits die hard, I suppose - Snowdon quotes an ‘ordinary’ National Union of Teachers “activist” in Gateshead, Tony Dowling (who, of course, is also ex-SWP), who tells us that it is “fundamental that we don’t allow members of a racist and fascist organisation to teach in our schools”: it gives “false respectability to a party that intimidates minority communities” and “wants to smash democracy” (www.counterfire.org).
Unlike the Morning Star, Counterfire and the rest, the CPGB is utterly opposed to a state ban on BNP members becoming teachers - or anything else. Like any other workers teachers should only be disciplined or dismissed for what they do - in this case, for example, victimising black kids or racially abusing their students. To lend support to such an anti-democratic measure as denying employment to someone because of the ideas they may have in their head really would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. However, as we have depressingly seen so often in the past, turkeys do indeed vote for Christmas - regularly and enthusiastically. Thus the on-off calls going back a decade or more from the SWP, and those clustered around them politically and ideologically, for the bourgeois state to ban the BNP altogether.
There have been examples in the past of laws banning ‘extremists’ from working in the public sector - the Berufsverbot system in the old West Germany, for instance. However, the ‘extremists’ in question were communists - with the panic this time being motivated by Stalinophobia and cold war pressures. But by whipping up absurdly exaggerated fears about the BNP, Counterfire, the Morning Star and all those who echo the demand to prohibit BNP members from becoming teachers - or think it is a good idea for the state to intervene in the internal affairs of a political organisation - are effectively calling for a UK ‘soft focus’ version of Berufsverbot: criminally allowing the bourgeois state and its laws to be the arbiter of what is or is not ‘beyond the pale’.